Nova Scotia

Metro Transit strike savings equal 2011 deficit

Metro Transit and the Halifax Regional Municipality have already saved an amount equal to last year's transit deficit, as the bus drivers' strike enters its fifth week.

The deadline on HRM's last offer expires Friday at 11:59 p.m.

The transit strike is now into its fifth week. (CBC)

Metro Transit and the Halifax Regional Municipality have already saved an amount equal to last year's transit deficit, as the bus drivers' strike enters its fifth week.

Fares don't cover the whole cost of operating the system and taxpayers spend millions to subsidize the service every year.

Last year, even with that subsidy, Metro Transit had a deficit of $2.5 million.

CBC News has calculated the savings so far — according to the city's figures, it saves $85,000 every weekday the buses aren't running, slightly less on weekends.

The strike has now lasted 30 days — 22 of those were weekdays — so by the end of this week, Metro Transit will have saved approximately $2.5 million, which is equal to last year's transit deficit.

Several members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 508 told CBC News they believe the savings are a factor in the strike. However, Metro Transit insists it has nothing to do with it.

"The saving of the $2.5 million which is the money we would've saved daily in wages to this point in the strike has nothing to do with a deficit," said Lori Patterson, spokeswoman for Metro Transit.

"Transit services, their mandate is to provide service to its citizens and typically they run at a deficit," she said.

"They are not typically money-saving organizations."

Strike pay

Metro Transit is saving money, but its 763 unionized employees are losing wages while they walk the picket line.

Metro Transit said the average basic salary for drivers is just under $50,000, but with overtime the average driver makes about $72,000 a year.

Drivers have now lost four weeks of pay, so based on the salary with overtime that's a loss of about $5,500.

Each driver is getting $150 a week in strike pay, so their net loss so far is about $4,900 each, before taxes and other payroll deductions.

Lori Patterson says $2.5 million saved on driver wages has nothing to do with Metro Transit's deficit. (CBC)

Metro Transit workers walked off the job Feb. 2, leaving thousands of commuters without bus or ferry service.

"It's an essential service and they're going to have to talk," said Tynette Deveau, a commuter.

Shane Robilliard agreed it's imperative to have public transit.

"I think it's gone on long enough, they need to come to an agreement. It's an essential service in my opinion," Robilliard said.

Ian Stewart said in general, he believes the city needs to invest in public transit.

"Obviously we can't bankrupt the city on this deal, but this is the kind of wake-up call that the city needs to show it cares about its public transit."

Final offer

The union has until 11:59 p.m. Friday to respond to what HRM called its "final" offer. Last week the union rejected that offer, with 78 per cent against.

"So at 11:59 p.m. the deal that is there will fall off the table … we gave and gave and gave. Some of those things that we did give we may have to re-look at, to see if we have a reason to re-approach or change the offer," Mayor Peter Kelly said Friday afternoon.

He said the last few days have been quiet.

"We haven't heard from them for the past couple of days, we have heard from a few union members but not from the union itself," Kelly said.

Union members told CBC last week the final offer is a five-year collective agreement, including a first-year payment of $1,500 and a 2.25 per cent raise in each of the next four years.

The city also wants control over rostering-style shift scheduling.

The union presented what it called a counter-offer, however HRM flatly rejected it Tuesday in an in-camera council meeting. A subsequent offer — sent by email from the union to the city on Wednesday — was also rejected.